On Shift with the CEO

 

8:00 a.m.

Welcome and Orientation

‘Initial training for new employees’ is a guideline on workplace safety and the management systems in the areas of environment and energy. Among other things, it focuses on the risk of injury on shelves and racks, the separation of waste, and the question of what practical strategies can be implemented to conserve energy.

K170: That’s what they call the enormous complex for final assembly here at the main production facility in Rüsselsheim. Our colleagues here build the Astra and the Insignia. Early shift has already been on duty for two hours and 15 minutes. It’s a pretty normal work day – if you ignore the man who’s currently making a beeline for Station 12 in the ‘Trim 3’ area, where hand brakes are installed. He’s wearing safety boots and factory-mandated uniform. It’s all in line with regulations; nothing really stands out about him. And yet everyone’s staring at him. His name tag is a good indication as to why: ‘K.-T. Neumann,’ it reads. Yep: He’s the CEO of Opel. Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann is on his way to start his shift. He reports to Jürgen Dörr. They shake hands, and the shift foreman immediately launches into ‘initial training for new employees.’ 25 minutes later, the man who oversees more than 37,000 employees starts his shift: Neumann installs hand brakes on the assembly line. What on earth is going on here?

 


8:25 a.m.

Installing Hand Brakes

Neumann explains his motivation as follows: “My goal was to have direct contact with my employees, to show that I’m interested and that I’m part of the overall team.”

“I’ve been to countless factories and I’ve seen numerous automotive plants, but I’ve never really worked in one,” Neumann would go on to explain after his seven-hour shift had ended. That’s why the CEO wanted to experience what the job was like first hand and find out more about the most important aspects. By 8:25 a.m., the ‘trainee’ has already started learning the ropes. With team leader Boguslaw Bijok at his side, Neumann leans into the interior of an Insignia. A powerful electric screwdriver in his hand, he screws nuts into the central console with great speed and installs the hand brake lever. He quickly attaches a wiper motor and connects a cable at the rear of the vehicle. Done! The process took him 56.8 seconds; that’s within acceptable limits. On to the next car. Neumann will repeat this process dozens of times over the course of the day.


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8:40 a.m.

Joining the Team for a Break

Employee Ali Özdemir says of Neumann: “It’s good to know that the CEO wants to know what we do here and how we feel about it.”

Time for a little sit-down in the lounge by the production line. Neumann chats with the employees from Station 12 over apple pie. The focus of their conversation is on vehicle quality, but also on production intervals on the line. According to colleague Dominik Beretha, “a new employee needs at least three days to get into the hang of it.” Neumann nods. After nine minutes, he heads on to the ‘Trim 3’ area, where he picks up his electric screwdriver again.


10:15 a.m.

Lunch

In the cafeteria, Neumann opts for ‘Menu 2’: Glazed pork loin with creamed cauliflower and boiled potatoes.

At the cafeteria, Neumann sits surrounded by 14 employees. It’s a diverse group, including colleagues from manufacturing, team leaders, and foremen. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed. They discuss Opel’s ongoing ‘Umparken im Kopf’ (Mental Shift) campaign. Thomas Wedde, head of central training coordination for manufacturing, is part of the group. He chimes in: “My family and friends are suddenly more interested in what really makes us special – our fantastic products.” Neumann agrees and stresses: “It’s quite clear that our message is hitting home to greater effect these days.” Neumann also chats about the benefits of running as a way to balance out the stress of work. The CEO reveals that in the winter, he likes to run on the treadmill instead of jogging outside. After the lunchtime chat, Neumann glances at the clock and winks: “Time for me to get back to work?” Indeed it is.


10:45 a.m.

Mounting the Bumpers

Foreman Manfred Becker says of Neumann’s shift: “In my entire 39 years at Opel, I’ve never had a CEO show up and work with us here in manufacturing.”

In the ‘Car Final 1’ area, Station 3, foreman Manfred Becker briefs Neumann, and team leader Christos Mandis shows him the ins and outs of the assembly line: Attach the bumper with two nuts, install the windshield cleaner tank, connect the hoses. The process should take 56 seconds in total. Neumann puts the pedal to the metal. But then, suddenly, a loud melody rings out: He’s made a mistake! One of the screws he put in is loose. Mandis corrects the problem, and back to work Neumann goes. Still two hours and a team break to go until he changes stations again.


1:15 p.m.

Bolting in Seat Rails

Darek Hentszel, an employee at the Gliwice plant who is working in Rüsselsheim for six weeks, says of Neumann: “I always imagined that a CEO would be stiff and formal. KTN is the polar opposite; he’s one of us.”

The ‘Car Final 5’ area, Station 11: By this point, the late shift has begun. Under the guidance of team leader Nuri Genc, Neumann bolts down front seats and safety belts. During the brief team break, he says, “I’m particularly impressed by the strong focus on quality here. For example, every single person warned me that I should look out for potential mistakes that the person before me might have made, and that I shouldn’t pass any mistakes down the line.” Neumann attempts to avoid doing just that during his final hours on the job before it’s time to go home.


3:00 p.m.

Time to head home!

By 3:00 p.m., Neumann has such a good rhythm going that he doesn’t even notice shift foreman Zafar Karakus standing next to him. Karakus signals that Neumann’s shift is over. Time to sum up: What will Neumann take away from this work day? “I would like to cordially thank all who have taken time for me here. I know that it was all on top today and I actually kept everyone off working,” says the CEO. “What brings me personally very much joy was to see the enthusiasm for the brand. One also senses how happy the employees are that there is good news about Opel again. Now, we all are working to ensure that it continues upward.”